Maintaining a healthy weight may help prevent hearing loss in women.

Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) recently published study results demonstrating that a higher body mass index (BMI) and larger waist circumference are each associated with higher risk of hearing loss in women.

In a study of more than 68,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study II who were followed over 20 years, the researchers found that when compared with women with BMI of less than 25, the risk for hearing loss was 17 percent higher for women with a BMI of 30 to 34, 22 percent higher for women with a BMI of 35 to 39, and 25 percent higher for women with a BMI of 40+. Compared with women with waist circumference of less than 28 inches, the risk for hearing loss for those with a waist circumference of 35 inches or more was 27 percent higher. In addition, a larger waist circumference was associated independently with increased risk of hearing loss, even after taking BMI into account. This suggests that central adiposity (or “belly fat”) may itself be a risk factor for hearing loss.

The researchers also examined the relationship between physical activity and hearing loss. Taking BMI and waist circumference into account, they found that women who were the most physically active had a 17 percent lower risk of hearing loss compared to women who were the least physically active. Even walking, the most common form of physical activity among these women, was associated with a lower risk; women who walked two hours per week or more had a 15 percent lower risk of hearing loss than women who walked less than one hour per week.

“We often think of hearing loss as an inevitable part of the aging process, but these findings provide evidence that potentially modifiable risk factors, such as maintaining a healthy weight and staying physically active, may help in the prevention of hearing loss or delay its progression,” says Dr. Sharon Curhan, lead author of the paper and a researcher in the Channing Division of Network Medicine at BWH.

Results of the study were published online in The American Journal of Medicine. According to the World Health Organization, 360 million people have disabling hearing loss.

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– Lori S.

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